13 September 2015

Mark 8:27-38

“Who do people say that I am? … But who do you say that I am?” (vv. 27, 29)

Psalm: Psalm 116


"Who do people say that I am?" - a straight forward question to a group of people who are named in Mark's Gospel as Jesus' disciples: their reply shows that they had been listening to the folk who had gathered around Jesus as they had journeyed together. They list the various descriptions they had heard - John the Baptist, Elijah, and some of the prophets (verse 28). It must have been a very friendly and straight forward conversation but then the crunch comes, "Who do you say that I am?". And there is only one of the group, Peter, who gives an answer "You are the Messiah" the promised one. It would have been good to hear what the others gave as their answer to this very straight forward question.

In the next few verses we might ponder as to whether Jesus is actually issuing them with a warning about the days ahead, he spells out clearly what is going to happen to him, much to the dismay and disbelief of Peter (if not the whole group), and it is clear that Peter hasn't fully understood what his declaration meant. It would seem that in Peter's eyes the Messiah would be untouchable and never put in a position of rejection and danger, Jesus response could be thought of as harsh "Get behind me Satan! for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things" (v. 33).

It would have been interesting to ask again the same question Jesus had asked earlier, after he had gone on to teach them about what was to happen to him in the days to come, and when they are challenged with the words "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" (v. 34). If we had read on a little further in Mark's Gospel (Mark 9:2-8), we would see how three of the disciples had Peter's answer confirmed when they were taken by Jesus on to the mount of Transfiguration. Peter, James and John were puzzled at what they saw there and wondered what they should do. The text says that they were terrified, and it is then that they hear the voice "This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him" (Mark 9:7). They have their faith strengthened and are prepared for what is to come, although told not to share that experience with anyone at that time.

To Ponder

  • If Jesus asked you "Who do you say that I am?", what would your answer would be? Would you, like Peter be able to affirm immediately that Jesus was the promised Messiah with all that that entails, or would you be more inclined towards the words of the hymn 'What a friend we have in Jesus'?
  • What do you think it means when Jesus says his followers have to take up the cross and follow him?
  • Do you think those who heard Jesus that day would have fully understood what he was saying to them? Why?

Bible notes author

The Revd Pat Billsborrow

Pat Billsborrow is a supernumerary minister in the Northwich and Winsford Circuit, and is at present part of a district ministry team working within that circuit with pastoral care of four churches. She is ecumenical officer in the Cheshire part of the Chester and Stoke on Trent Methodist District.